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June 23, 2021


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World leaders condemned Belarus for ‘Hijacking’ Ryanair flight to arrest activist Roman Protasevich

3 min read
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Image by Dirk Daniel Mann from Pixabay

Punitive measures against Belarus might be imminent, after authorities in Minsk forced a Ryanair plane to land and arrested a passenger on board.

In a tweet, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “The outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences.” She continued:

“Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.” The exiled Belarusian activist and blogger Roman Protasevich was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when the airplane was diverted to Belarus in a false security alert. EU leaders will convene today to discuss the matter.

Whether that security alert was a fabrication by the Belarus authorities is now at the heart of an incident which has sparked widespread international condemnation and raised serious questions about safety in the skies. Some governments have described the incident as a state-sanctioned hijacking.

One of the passengers on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was Belarus opposition activist Raman Pratasevich, who is wanted on a variety of charges. For him the diversion was much more than an inconvenience.

As soon as the plane landed, he was arrested, according to the Belarus Interior Ministry.The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been fending off opposition protests since claiming victory last year after a hotly-disputed election widely condemned by the international community.

Ryanair flight FR4978 arrived at Vilnius airport in Lithuania after being diverted and held for hours in the Belarusian capital Minsk. The normally three-hour flight from Athens to Vilnius had almost reached its destination when Belarusian authorities diverted the plane.

pic by @flightradar24 on twitter

They cited a bomb threat and escorted it with a military plane to the airport in Minsk. The authorities didn’t find any explosives. But they did arrest a passenger: Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian activist and blogger living in exile. Passengers said they saw Belarusian police confiscating the activist’s passport.

For months, Belarusians have been protesting against Authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The outrage was sparked in August when he won a sixth term in office in a presidential vote the opposition said was rigged.

The government cracked down and arrested thousands. By then, Protasevich already lived in Poland. He is a co-founder of NEXTA, a channel on the Telegram messaging app, which was used to help organize the protests and published video from them. International leaders are calling the episode a hijacking – and demand the release of Roman Protasevich. EU leaders are set to discuss their response on Monday.

The UN’s agency for civil aviation, ICAO, said it was concerned about an “apparent forced landing” which could be “in contravention of the Chicago Convention” which sets out the rules on airspace and aircraft safety.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Hijacking a civilian plane is an unprecedented act of state terrorism that cannot go unpunished.”

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